Energy News

Coca Cola is the David that the Slingshot Needs.



"The Slingshot is the little tool that David needs to defeat Goliath"—Dean Kamen.

Florida’s Untapped Solar Power

(3BL Media/Just Means) I've spent the summer living in historic St. Augustine, Florida. The surf is great, the people are friendly and the sun shines brightly every single day. The sun is powerful here, powerful enough it seems to produce enough solar energy for most of the nation.

Microsoft Partners with UTSA to Develop Sustainable Technologies

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Microsoft Corp. has entered into a three-year agreement with the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) to research and develop sustainable technologies. The goal is to make Microsoft’s data centers more energy efficient and economically viable. The company has also made a gift of $1 million to UTSA to support the university’s R&D programs.

Renewables Coming Online Way Ahead of Schedule

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Efforts to address the increasingly pressing climate challenge with rational policy continue to languish in Washington, as willfully ignorant conservatives continue to choose donor loyalty over science. But based on the surprisingly robust growth of renewable energy, you almost wouldn’t know it. It seems to be the case that if the government won't make us do it, we're just going to have go ahead and do it anyway. Indeed it seems as if we've done a far better job than anyone expected.

A new study conducted by the SUN DAY campaign, projects that electricity generation from renewable sources will reach 16% of the total by 2018. This is 22 years sooner than that predicted by US Energy Information Administration.

Using The EIA’s own data, the study was able to show that if renewables continue to grow at the present rate, they will outperform the EIA’s projections by a wide margin.

Considering the fact that between the years 2009 and 2013 renewables grew from less than 9% to nearly 13%, it’s hard to imagine that it would take until 2040, as the EIA forecast predicts, to reach 16%. Granted, there are obstacles to face and much low-hanging fruit has been harvested, but given the compelling combination of low prices, growing investment, available innovative financing, built-in cost resiliency, energy security, and the moral imperative to take meaningful action, there seems to be no stopping them now. A more realistic assessment, according to the SUN DAY report, shows us reaching 16%, conservatively, in five years, and possibly in as little as four, certainly not the 27 years that EIA claims.

This is a “disservice to the public,” says Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Inasmuch as policy makers in both the public and private sectors - as well as the media and others - rely heavily upon EIA data when making legislative, regulatory, investment, and other decisions, underestimation can have multiple adverse impacts on the renewable energy industry and, more broadly, on the nation's environmental and energy future.”

Indeed, Bloomberg estimates that investment in renewables should be expected to grow by somewhere between two and a half and four and a half times by 2030. That number is 35% more than their previous forecast that was made just a year ago. This underscores the fact that renewables are growing faster than anyone had predicted.

If We Can't Make Fracking Unnecessary, Can We At Least Make It Safer?

(3Bl Media/Justmeans) - Russell Gold’s pragmatic piece about fracking in the Wall Street Journal makes a number of excellent points. First, our economy has such an enormous appetite for energy, that there is no way we can simultaneously give up coal, oil, nuclear and natural gas, as much as the environment would like us to, without bringing things to a screeching halt. So pick your poison.

Conventional wisdom has been that gas is the lesser of the four evils, especially after Fukushima, where nuclear lost most of whatever remaining luster it had. Even the esteemed Rocky Mountain Institute said we could wean ourselves off the other three, while growing the economy, so long as we had natural gas as a “bridge fuel.” That was before the precipitous drop in gas prices due to the discovery of Marcellus Shale and before the realization of the many issues associated with fracking.

Gold mentions several of them: the leaks, the lack of water testing or understanding as to what constitutes a safe and suitable site, and the lack of quality control throughout the process.

He does not mention several other issues including the question of earthquakes triggered by fracking, and the presence of radon in the gas. Radon has a radioactive half-life of 2-3 days. The means that by the time it reaches New York from places like Louisiana, it is no longer radioactive. But it can get to New York a lot faster from Pennsylvania.

Mr. Gold focuses more on pre-testing water before drilling in order to protect companies from “abusive false claims” of water contamination, than he does on legitimate claims.

As to the question of leaks, which the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently found were serious enough to make natural gas less climate-friendly than diesel fuel (though still more benign than coal), he says it’s just a matter of finding the leaks and fixing them. That could be easier said than done, considering the shoddy state of much of our infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines. There is also the fact that some of the leakage is intentional. Many natural gas wells operating in remote areas without electricity use pneumatic controllers that are powered by a flow of gas that spins a turbine before being released into the atmosphere. Annual releases of as much as 50 billion cubic feet have been recorded in recent years. The EPA has begun regulating these releases under the Clean Air Act, which has led to newer designs with lower emissions that are now being deployed. But these emissions could be cut to zero if solar powered electric units with backup batteries were used instead.

But perhaps the biggest omission is any discussion of any of the work that is currently taking place to actually make fracking safer.

What Else Besides Low Cost is Driving the Growth of Solar?

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last year marked a turning point in the renewable energy field. Growth of 36.5 GW in newly installed solar generating capacity exceeded that of wind power, which grew by 35.5 GW. True, wind power has been backsliding a bit, with investment dropping from $73.8 billion in 2012 to $58.5 billion in 2013. This is primarily due to uncertainty around whether Congress would renew the Production Tax Credit (PTC) at the end of the year. They did not, as it turns out, though prospects for a new bill are looking good right now, after a last minute push through the Senate Finance Committee. Financial data shows that wind power has attracted 17 times more private investment than the tax credits were worth, proving that the technology has wings, as long as the government is willing to level the playing field. Still there was a slight overall decline in renewable investment for the year, dropping from $248.7 billion to $247.6 billion for the year.

The decline could certainly not be blamed on solar, which grew from $79.7 billion to $91.3 billion over the year. Costs, which dropped by 20% in 2012, stabilized in 2013 falling a mere 3% for the year. So that was not the main reason for the growth. Prices are already low enough for many people, even reaching “grid parity” in many areas. In fact, solar module process have fallen so far, that right now, the module price is only around 10% of the overall installation cost. The Solar PTC, which is still in place, is scheduled to expire in 2017, which could slow growth unless market forces become strong enough to carry it forward without help.

Financing has now become the long pole in the tent. This is the area where innovation is needed, and it is already beginning to appear.

Solar City, for example, has pledged to reduce installed cost by 5% per year through 2017, which would, in essence cover the loss of the PRC. Much of that will come from financial innovation.

Google, Apple, Facebook Pushing Ahead with ‘Green Internet’

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – A new report released by Greenpeace says that Google, Apple and Facebook are spearheading the efforts to power the Internet with 100 percent renewable energy. The report titled “Clicking Clean: How Companies are Creating the Green Internet” details how these Internet leaders along with a growing number of other tech companies have brought about a key shift in the choice of energy sources over the last two years.

Honda Unveils Smart Home US for Zero Carbon Living and Mobility

Honda's ultra-efficient, carbon neutral smart home is capable of producing more energy on-site from renewable sources than it consumes annually—and it comes with a specially modified Honda Fit electric vehicle

Solar Desalination Solves Many Problems

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - It seems fitting, with World Water Week just behind us, and with news of the latest, even more dire assessment of the impacts of climate change from the IPCC still making the rounds, that we should share this story which shows one very effective way to connect the dots.

Given the changes coming down the climate pipeline, water is going to be an area of particular  concern, because we are so completely dependent on it to live, and because it’s going to be getting harder to find. Droughts are expected to increase. Snow melt, which often provides water in many regions for most of the year, is accelerating, often providing floods instead of nourishment, and changing rainfall patterns can deprive areas of water that previously had plenty.

Water and energy are inextricably linked. It takes lots of energy to pump water from one place to another and today’s thermal power plants with their cooling towers are among the nation’s largest consumers of water.

For all of these reasons, the announcement of a new solar desalination initiative is welcome news.

WaterFX is using a 377 foot-long solar array to turn brackish water, a mixture of fresh and salt water, into pure distilled water, also producing concentrated mineral salts as a byproduct. Brackish water is commonly found in estuaries, deltas and mangrove swamps, but it is becoming increasingly common as agricultural drainage as freshwater aquifers are depleted. This phenomenon is known as saltwater encroachment. It can also be expected to increase as sea level rises.

The Water FX technology, which has been dubbed “drought buster,” is currently being demonstrated in a $1 million project at the Panoche Water and Drainage District in Firebaugh, which serves the agriculturally rich Central Valley in California. Their Aqua4™ Concentrated Solar Still uses an approach that differs significantly from conventional desalination technology. Not only is it powered by the sun instead of electricity or other means, but it also relies on evaporation rather than reverse osmosis (RO) which is more commonly used. RO has been considered the more cost-effective approach due to the high energy cost associated with evaporation, but with the Concentrated Solar Still, the energy is free and clean. The rate at which fresh water can be recovered from salt or brackish water is also higher, as much as 93%, compared to 50% for RO systems. It also produces commercially desirable concentrated mineral salts as a byproduct.

A larger, commercial version of this plant, will be built later this year on 31 acres of land, capable of producing roughly two million gallons per day.

Nissan’s Electric Vehicle Sales Are Really Taking Off

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Making sales projections for brand new technology can be difficult, to say the least. Sometimes products catch on quickly and never look back. Other times they take awhile before becoming viral. Think about the iPhone and the iPad, for example.

So it’s no big surprise that the Renault/Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was a bit over optimistic when he first proclaimed in 2012 that sales of their all-electric Leaf would hit 1.5 million in four years. Sales started out slower than expected, so he pushed back the deadline to 2020, a full four years later. Range anxiety and recharging time have generally been considered the car’s biggest hurdles. Now, as sales of the car are heating up, it looks as if he was being far too conservative.

Leaf sales continue to grow. In fact, as of February, they have set new records each month for the past twelve months. That’s not an industry-wide move, either. Chevy Volt sales have actually been falling off. Leaf is outselling Volt in the US so far this year. In fact, Leaf holds the #1 spot this year, follwed by the Tesla. Granted, the numbers are still small: 1425 Leafs vs. 1210 Volts in a month, but the trend is worth noting. Over 100,000 Nissan units have now been sold worldwide. Still, we are well short of President Obama’s prediction of one million electric vehicles on US roads by 2015.

Increasing pressure on carmakers to reduce fleet fuel consumption averages, thanks to new Federal emission standards, is helping. The clean car trend is beginning to spread around the world, too. Emerging markets in Asia and South America could become hot spots for electric vehicle sales.

This paper by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, describes standards alsready in place in the US, Canada, the EU, Japan, Korea, and Australia, and argues for the need for a unified international standard, which would make life far easier for manfacturers. Mexico, India, Indonesia, and Thailand are said to be in the process of developing standards that should soon be ready.

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